Simplify with a phablet


Jim:  My XP laptop is  failing and my cell phone is old.  I do not have text yet and use very few minutes.   I liked the size of the 7″ Samsung tablet you showed me.   My son says I should get a 6″ Samsung Galaxy Note 3 from T-Mobile.   Is that a good idea?  What is an unlocked phone and what do they cost?

Short answers:

T-Mobile has lower cost and adequate service in the Chicago area.  They have several different plans for different needs.  Pre-paid, bring your own phone, and full contract phones.  The 2 year contract with a Note 3 runs about $80/month at Costco.

T-Mobile retail stores sell a Note 3 without a contract for $800 but that is not the real cost.  More details later:

Unlocked means you can take the phone to a compatible carrier. There are 2 types of unlocked phones in the US.

GSM unlocked are compatible with AT&T or T-Mobile.  GSM phones have a sim card in them.

CDMA unlocked works on  sprint, cricket or Verizon.  CDMA phones have no sim card

Unlocked phablets cost $250-$800 and quality is just one minor factor in the cost.


Cellular marketing terms.

Cell phone contracts can be very profitable for the mobile service carriers.  You know a business model is very profitable when  if they buy up a lot of TV advertising.

  • Tablet: A small screen sized computer with no permanently attached keyboard is called a tablet.  Tablets screens run 7”-12” diagonally.  Tablets can come set up for cellular data or with just WiFi internet service.  WiFi only also means that you are not locked into a monthly fee on the tablet.  Many users do not understand that they can make their Android phone into a wifi hot spot without  a separate contract.  An app called FoxFi cost $10 one time and is compatible with several phones and carriers.  (Unfortunately you need to jailbreak an iPhone to use this sort of app).  I have used my old 10.1″ WiFi only Motorola Xoom for 3 years with my cellular service without any monthly cost or contract.
  • Phablet: A 5”-7” screen with a phone built in is called a phablet (phone+tablet).  Your son believes a phablet is something you should consider.  Technology wise one device is simpler for you but it has pros and cons.

Traditionally cell companies sold telephones 3 ways.

    1. On contract. The phone costs $0-100 upfront but the real cost is in the 2 year contract of about $50-80 month.  ($1200-$2000 commitment).
    2. Full retail / no contract:  carriers list cell phones for an inflated retail cost so that you are scared into a long term contract.  Phablets list  $800 at carrier inflated retail pricing.  The $800 phone locked to the carrier you bought it from.
    3. Pre-paid minutes with a old cheap phone:  If you do not want a 12-24 month contract you can buy your service in minute packages.  Carriers have options where you are only locked in to a payment for 1-3 months.  Generally you also buy a cheap cell phone from the carrier at the same time.  Prepaid is a combination of low minutes and low commitment costs but generally has the highest cost per minute allowed.  So the highest and lowest cell phone bills are generally pre-paid contracts.  The phone is generally an older simpler model.  sometimes called “Burners” because they are comparatively cheap and almost disposable.  Although talk costs more per minute it might cost you less monthly if you do not use a lot of minutes from this phone.  This option is popular with people who need a second phone because they do not use their work phone for personal use.  A burner phone is a match for the needs of unemployed people, pre-teens,  seniors, drug dealers, terrorists and philanderers.   Becomes very expensive if you exceed your minutes.
  •  Locked vs unlocked Cell phones:  This is a modern day practice reminiscent of what Dr. Seuss’ The Sneeches went through.  Cell phones are made by hardware manufacturers like LG, Motorola, Apple and Samsung.  These manufacturers make the phones to be compatible with certain general types of cellular systems (USA cell systems are GSM or CDMA).  Later a cellular provider pays an entrepreneur (Sylvester McMonkey McBean) to install software that locks the to just one carrier. AT&T and T-Mobile both maintain GSM towers but each lock their phones so to make it difficult for  Sneeches to take their cell phone and business to the other GSM compatible carrier.  Later the Sneeches can pay tech savvy McBean $20-$40 to unlock the phone so that the phone can be attached to either GSM compatible carrier.   Note that selling your cell phone or unlocking it does not get you out of any financial contract you have with your carrier.  Generally the contract is there to make sure the cellular company gets lots of money from you in trade for buying you your cell phone.
  • Cell phone without a contract:  What if you could buy any phone you wanted but did not buy it with ties to a cellular service carrier’s contract?   Would some compatible cell phone still sell you cellular service?  You would be free to negotiate service and disconnect your service to any willing cellular service on your schedule.  You would also be able to choose the device(s) that met your needs.   As a bonus your monthly costs should be lower if the cell service is not buying you an $800 phone.  This is Cell service BYOD (Bring your own device/phone)  Unlocked Cell phones without contracts are available through ebay, amazon and other online retailers.  The cost varies widely from $10-$1000.  The newest most feature packed phones cost the most while last year’s models cost at least 20% less.

Random Sample Unlocked Phablets (no contract) on Amazon:


Samsung Galaxy Note 3 III N900 32gb Black Factory Unlocked Android Cell Phone

·          $649.18

·         More Buying Choices

·         $635.95 new (14 offers)

·         $435.00 used (12 offers)

·         (67) reviews

Zopo Zp950+ Phablet 5.7inch Mtk Mt6589 Quad Core Android 4.1 3g Smartphone White

·         $310.99 new (1 offer)

·         (1) reviews


Samsung Galaxy Note II N7105 White 4G/LTE Factory Unlocked International Version LTE/4G BANDS 800 / 900 / 1800…

·         $488.99

·         More Buying Choices

·         $479.99 new (8 offers)

·         $345.00 used (9 offers)   ·         (39) reviews


Ulefone N9002 Smartphone Android 4.2 Mtk6589 Quad Core 1gb 8gb 5.7 Inch Hd Screen OTG Gesture Sensing 3g Dual…

·         $249.99 new (1 offer)

·         (7) reviews

·         Product Features

·         … Net10 at 2G/3G/4G. compatible with T-Mobile & Simple Mobile at 2G. …


Samsung Galaxy S IV/S4 GT-I9500 Factory Unlocked Phone – International Version (White)

·          $524.99

·         More Buying Choices

·         $516.99 new (17 offers)

·         $364.98 used (48 offers)

·         (231) reviews


Unlocked 6.0-inch Smartphone I9977 Android 4.0 Mtk6577 Dual SIM Mobile Phone

·         $260.00 new (1 offer)

·         (61) reviews


Sony Xperia Z C6603 Black Factory Unlocked LTE BANDS 1/3/5/7/8/20 International version – Original Sony phone

·         $410.00

·         More Buying Choices

·         $400.00 new (21 offers)

·         $375.00 used (4 offers)

·         (77) reviews

For comparison:

Popular smaller smartphones unlocked

no contract:

New Apple iPhone 5 w/ One month of $50 GIV Mobile Unlimited Talk, Text & Data Service & SIM Kit!

phone scoop’s reviews of t-Mobile’s tablets

Leave a Reply